Video Game Review: ROCK OF AGES Is Monty Python Meets MARBLE MADNESS

Tower Defense meets classic artwork? Alex likes.

ACE Team garnered acclaim for its bizarre and wonderful first person brawler Zeno Clash and they’re back with a new downloadable title that’s just as offbeat. What else do you call a game that has you rolling boulders down a hill to crush your opponents?

Rock of Ages is best described as the Tower Defense-obsessed love child of Marble Madness and Monty Python, and if that has you intrigued then this this is probably the game for you. The whole point of the game is to roll a giant rock down a hill to smash through a castle and splatter the person hiding within it. The catch is that while you’re trying to kill them, they’re trying to kill you. Both players roll down identical tracks at the same time, setting up various defenses along the way to try and stop the mammoth rock’s speedy descent.

But hey, there’s actually a story behind this! In the campaign you witness the story of Sisyphus, the king from Greek mythology who is punished in the afterlife by being forced to roll a massive boulder up a hill only to see it come back down, and have to push it back up again. Here Sisyphus gets pissed off with his station in death and decides to fight back, using his boulder to smash through defenses and take down various historical figures.

Along five art periods from Classical Greek to Postmodern you’ll face everyone from Leonidas and Agamemnon to Henry the VIII. Leonardo Da Vinci shows up in a familiar scene to tell Sisyphus that he’s being played.

But in case you’re afraid of the art references going over your head, that’s where the Pythonesque humor comes in. Each level starts off with an animation that’ obviously influenced by the work of Terry Gilliam, famous animated paintings and nudes that are spoofs of famous films and games, with lots of fart jokes thrown in. In fact all the characters in the game are 2D cutouts of famous art, jerkily animated around the world, and they crush to a similar splurt sound that the foot stomping down the Flying Circus logo makes. Besides the regular levels you’ll also face boss battle along the way, the best of which has you facing Michelangelo’s David, trying to jump into cannons to hit him in the nether regions.

Of course you have full control of your boulder and can even jump with the A button, but what really makes the game is how solid your boulder feels. Mass and momentum equals a ton of smashed structures and squashed people, and you (and your opponents) will feel every hit. Depending on how many things you smash you’ll be given cash to spend on your own defenses, as well as upgrade your boulder for one turn by putting spikes on it, setting it on fire, and so on. Those are pricey so you might want to just focus on defending the track leading to your castle.

After your boulder smashes upon your opponent’s gate and knocks down a bit of its life bar you’ve got a little bit of time to wait as your workers prepare a new one, and here is time to prepare some surprises for your opponent. The defenses range from static ones (towers of various sizes) to the much more fun active ones, such as cows and elephants that chase the boulder off cliffs, ballistas that shoot it off track, giant fans to push it into even more danger. It’s rare that you’ll be able to completely destroy your enemy’s boulder but it’s possible, as the more damage it takes and the more pieces chip off of it the smaller it gets.

Really the game is trying to slow down your opponent as much as possible, because it’s generally easy to jump and smash through obstacles. Later levels (there are eighteen) provide trickier environments to navigate, with lots of places to fall and shortcuts to find. While each level gives you new toys to play with, stronger versions of existing units as well as brand-new units with their own abilities, each pretty much runs the same. You’ve got to be quick, you’ve got to put defenses up in the right place to slow your opponent down but for the most part it will take three smashes from your boulder to knock down the opponent’s gate, and vice versa. So it generally becomes a race against time to squash him first.

After you’ve finished the campaign (and tried to collect the three keys hidden on each level) there’s also time trials as well as online multiplayer, which pits two players against each other either split-screen or online. Get tired of that and you can even play Skee-ball, which is exactly what it sounds like. Practice getting your shots in single player or face an opponent in multiplayer.

So that’s about it- rolling a rock down a hill and smashing things. The defense portion of the game might not give you the depth you were hoping for but the simple concept will appeal to the psychopathic child in all of us, and the hysterical art design only adds to the enjoyment. Another fine title from ACE Team.

Rock of Ages is on sale now on XBLA, PSN and Steam for $10.